Bernard Haitink
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
28 October 1996
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSiegfried Jerusalem
MimeGraham Clark
WotanJohn Tomlinson
AlberichEkkehard Wlaschiha
FafnerMatthias Hölle
ErdaCatherine Wyn-Rogers
BrünnhildeCarla Pohl
WaldvogelRosemary Joshua

Heroic deeds compromised by orange trousers

WHEN the Royal Opera House’s Siegfried was first performed nearly two years ago, readers may recall that instead of a review I addressed a letter to Herr Wagner in whatever part of Valhalla he might be residing. I am sorry to say I received no reply and can only assume he must have regarded its contents, describing the Richard Jones-Nigel Lowery production, as a hoax.

I returned to Siegfried last week during the third and last cycle of The Ring given as part of Covent Garden’s Midland Banks Proms, celebrating their 25th anniversary. The 700 promenaders (£15 admission) and the rest of a packed house gave it an ecstatic reception, although “it”, I devoutly hope, means Wagner’s music, which Bernard Haitink conducted magisterially, as he has done throughout the cycles so far. In Siegfried his tempi seemed to me ideal, pressing on in such tricky episodes as Wotan’s and Mimi’s question-and-answer session and broadening for the woodland scenes and the final love-duet. The orchestral playing was again kaleidoscopic in its range of tone-colour.

The singing was not quite of the high class we had earlier. There is no more musical Siegfried today than Siegfried Jerusalem, but his voice is no longer in its prime and by the end of Act 3 it was giving out. His artistry, however, is still impeccable and he brought a bel canto quality even to the Act 1 exchanges with Mime (a brilliant performance by Graham Clark, but isn’t he just a bit too knowing?)

Anne Evans was ill, so Brünnhilde was sung by Carla Pohl from Essen. Gallant though she was to make her house debut in this role in this production, her singing was no more than acceptably competent. A phrase or two suggested radiance, but after Deborah Polaski this was a come-down. John Tomlinson as Wotan in the guise of the Wanderer (inexplicably changed to Traveller in this production) and Ekkehard Wlaschiha as Alberich continued their triumphant progress – Tomlinson reverted to a relentless forte, however – and there was a pure-toned, sweet-voiced Woodbird from Rosemary Joshua.

“I can only use heroes”, Wotan sings in Act 2, but it seems Richard Jones can’t cope with them. For all the flashes of insight – and perhaps Act 2 of Siegfried is its best instalment – it is fundamentally an irreverent send-up of the characters in The Ring. Wotan and Alberich are dressed like those two old tramps who used to be a music-hall act and Siegfried wears orange shorts until he has killed the dragon Fafner (a Dalek), when he graduates into long trousers.

The comic-strip approach is intensified by Lowery’s ugly sets which inhabit the world of the kindergarten. The forest where Siegfried encounters the Woodbird has one stunted tree with an orange light-bulb on top. The Ring, I concede, can be interpreted in many ways, but a production which denies it grandeur and majesty and the force of Nature goes against the music and forfeits our respect.

Michael Kennedy | 09 Nov 1996

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 516 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC 3)
A production by Richard Jones (1995)
Carla Pohl replaces Anne Evans as Brünnhilde.
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.